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31 August 2018

Cliff Notes: A Perfect Day in Margate

As I walk along the Viking Coastal Trail from central Margate to Botany Bay, I can almost believe I am back in Sydney, following the Bondi to Coogee clifftop walk, rather than day-tripping on the north Kent coast. Both walks offer stark cliffs, sandy beaches and ocean pools, and sweeping sea views. It's about ten degrees cooler in Margate, of course, although still pleasant.


It is the speciality coffee that has brought me to Margate for the day, but the town has been on my London-day-trip to-do list for some time. I catch the first off-peak train from St Pancras, which arrives dead on time at 11:39. The first part of the journey zips by, but it takes longer to wind through eastern Kent. The train is busy — it's the Friday before the August bank holiday weekend — but most of the families decamp into Dreamland, the vintage amusement park located a few minutes' walk from the station.


I spend the next couple of hours visiting coffee shops. If you only have time for one, you should hit Curve Roasters' Storeroom, although if you're in the mood for brunch — and perhaps an LP or a haircut — Cliffs is well worth the walk to Cliftonville, a neighbourhood a mile or so east of the town centre. After my Cliffs brunch (a delicious poached egg and avocado on toast), I return to the centre, passing by Margate's 1525 Tudor House.


Then it's time for a spot of retail therapy. Margate has a disproportionate number of antiques shops and independent boutiques and lifestyle stores for a town of its size. I particularly enjoyed browsing in Haeckels (skincare),  Lydia's (jewellery and homewares), Milkwood (botanical candles and skincare), Môr (homewares), Paraphernalia (antiques) and Werkhaus (clothing). OK, yes, it also has the shell of a former Woolworths!




It's an intermittently sunny day but not quite warm enough for sunbathing or a dip in the sea, but I stroll down to the Harbour Arm on the seafront. The tide is out but I spend some time photographing the 'skyline' and those beautiful Thanet skies that Turner proclaimed the loveliest in Europe.



Speaking of J.M.W. Turner, the contemporary art gallery named in his honour is my next stop. At this point, I must confess that although I like some of Turner's landscapes, I still haven't quite recovered from the tediousness of Mike Leigh's titular biopic. The Turner Contemporary, which opened in 2011, is housed in a bold and angular modern building on the seafront. During my visit, Jyll Bradley's Dutch/Light (for Agneta) was displayed outside — the neon Plexiglas structures really come into their own when the sun comes out. Inside, there's currently a well-curated exhibition on the relationship between art, animals and humans, but the architecture itself is worth a look — and a photograph or two. I also picked up a few design-oriented gifts in the gallery shop.




I pop into the nearby visitor information centre to find out where I should go for a coastal walk. The helpful staff hand me a leaflet for the Viking Coastal Trail, which spans 30 miles around the Isle of Thanet. The information officer suggests I go as far as Botany Bay, which is a 50-minute walk over the clifftops, and hands me details for the return bus journey. The walk is quiet and peaceful late on a Friday afternoon in late summer. There are a few brave swimmers in one of the ocean pools, and plenty more picnickers and dog-walkers on the beaches down below.




At Botany Bay, I descend onto the sandy beach. This is supposed to be a good spot for fossils, but I just find one lonely oyster. I walk through the gap between the stark white chalk cliffs and explore the quieter beach on the other side, admiring those dramatic skies. I decide to walk back into town rather than waiting for a bus, and before long, I am back in civilisation.




Margate has diverse dinner options from fish and chips on the beach to fancier fare. I consider dining at Hantverk & Found, but book a table at Buoy and Oyster, which won the 'best Kent restaurant' award at the 2018 Taste of Kent awards. It's located on the seafront and the views are lovely. I order a burrata to start, which comes with heritage tomatoes and watermelon, and is perfectly indulgent. The lobsters of the day are a little large for me, so I go for the beer-battered fish and chips. The food is delicious and with generous portion sizes. Unfortunately, some ordering confusion means my Bloody Buoy Mary doesn't come with the requisite bacon garnish or accompanying oyster. This small mishap aside, the service is good and the setting relaxed and cosy — perfect for an early supper.


The rain stops in time for my walk back to the station and I take one last stroll on the now-empty beach before boarding my train back to the Big Smoke. Margate is a candidate for the perfect day trip from London, with its beaches and coastal walks, culture, independent shops, good food and, of course, coffee. Even better, my return ticket was only £20 — a rare occasion when it was cheaper to make a UK-based day trip than to fly to mainland Europe for the weekend.



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